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Energy sources life cycle analysis

Mar 03,2020 - Last updated at Mar 03,2020

Life Cycle Analysis is a common indicator used to measure Greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions of materials as well as activities in the construction industry from cradle to grave. For example, measuring pollution through CO2 emissions of burning coal over the whole life cycle of the coal fuel cycle not only considers burning coal at the power station, but takes into consideration coal mines construction, land changes, coal extraction and mines commissioning activities as well as transportation of coal, plant construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of all related facilities once they have become aged and obsolete. It also includes related emissions to transmission and distribution lines of electricity generated from the coal power station to your home and elsewhere. The same thing applies on any gas or traditionally fossil fuel-powered power station.

Mining coal produces methane gas, which is a GHG, trapped in strata that disperses into the atmosphere once excavating starts. Burning coal produces gases such as CO2, SF6, NOx, etc. So, it is a horrendous process that ought to be compared to other sources of energy. For example, lignite (one type of coal) can produce up to 1,300 grammes of CO2, equivalent during the process of producing one KWh of electricity, compared to 900 grammes for oil, 380 — 1000 grammes for gas, 13 — 190 grammes for solar, 3 — 41 grammes for wind and 2 — 20 grammes of CO2 equivalent for hydro.

It is also widely misleading to say that nuclear electricity is CO2 free when figures deceivingly provided show very low values compared to the actual pollution levels due to neglecting emissions of mining uranium, milling, enrichment, transportation … etc. Mudd and Diesendorf have calculated the emissions from this nuclear fuel cycle, by the end of the twentieth century, to be equivalent to 168 grammes of CO2 per each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. Nonetheless, it is increasing exponentially with time as uranium ore concentrations are dropping on a world scale. Also, they excluded other factors, such as radioactivity impact on bio-diversity and evaded disaster risk assessment, which can make a big difference to the overall environmental impact assessment if added as CO2-equivalent in the formula.

What makes the situation far worse is when countries legitimise using coal based on the excuse that they are small, under developed countries, that their contribution to the world pollution is negligible and that they need to diversify their energy sources.

Another socio-economic issue that ought to be considered is the fact that importing coal or any other energy source from abroad not only produces more GHGs, but also increases the risk of an environmental disaster while being transported by rail, road or ship, and also exposes the environment to radioactive dust that coal diffuses.

Furthermore, mining coal abroad deprives small countries, such as Jordan, from creating new job opportunities in other local energy sectors, such as oil shale and renewable energies, raising unemployment levels to unprecedented rates, while adding more job opportunities to foreign countries that mine it.


The writer is an energy and green buildings consultant. [email protected]

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